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Recognizing Optometry’s Female Trailblazers

Women In Optometry has been honoring women for excellence and their contributions to the optometric profession through its annual Theia Awards. The first awards were named for some of the profession’s earlier trailblazers and for Women’s History Month, it seems appropriate to revisit these inspirational women, past and present.

D. Elva Cooper

The Theia Award for Leadership and Advocacy is named in honor of Dr. D. Elva Cooper. Let’s go back to 1911, before women had the right to vote. Dr. D. Elva Cooper stepped in to lead the national Congress of the AOA, after the male president and vice president were unable to attend the meeting. D. Elva Cooper of Bradford, Pennsylvania, the second vice president of the AOA, was next in line to be presiding officer. It didn’t go well.

A petition was circulated to ask her to step down. She wouldn’t and apparently regained control—and recognition for her efforts—for managing a chaotic meeting.

old photos of two women from early 1900s - Dr. Gertrude Stanton and Dr. Elva Cooper
The AOA Foundation has this photo of Dr. Gertrude Stanton Jones and Dr. D. Elva Cooper in its archives.

Dr. Gertrude Stanton

Dr. Gertrude Stanton was our inspiration for the Innovation Award. In 1901, when the first optometry licensure law passed in Minnesota, Dr. Stanton applied and received a license—apparently the first woman to do so in the U.S.

She ran an optical business in her own storefront—and hired her daughter to work for her. It was an unconventional life for a woman, but it gained her financial success, independence and a loyal following of patients. In an advertisement for her services, it says she “is in charge and is an expert.” Today’s opticians have a lot more to explain. At the turn of the last century, however, this was the standard: “When an eye glass feels right, holds the lenses rigidly and perfectly before the eyes, and looks neat and dainty, then the eye glass is right.”

Dr. Mae Booth-Jones

old ad from Dr. Gertrude Stanton
Dr. Gertrude Stanton’s early 1900s advertisement

The inspiration behind the Dr. Mae Booth-Jones Mentoring and Education Award became the first female president of an optometry school in 1920. She was appointed to the post at the Washington School of Optometry in Spokane, Washington.

Here are the recipients who have been selected by the WO professional advisory board as winners of these awards. Over the years, we added a few additional categories: Young OD, Industry Influencer, Business and Influencer awards.

 

Read more newsmaker stories from WO here. 

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